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Reviving the dying Kashmiri script

Reviving the dying Kashmiri script

KASHMIRI Pandit scholars, teachers, academicians and thinkers in the Kashmir valley used Sarada or Sharda for centuries. A rich language developed from the Brahmi script during the second half of the eighth century AD, with its earliest inscriptions in 774AD in Hund in Pakistan, it is named after the deity Sharda, another name for Saraswati, the deity of learning.

Owing to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandit community and dilution of their culture and language during the then two and a half decades of militancy, it became virtually extinct. Running a New Delhi-based NGO, Millennium India Education Foundation, Uday Kakroo, a Kashmiri Pandit and cultural activist, is making efforts to revive this language, in which thousands of manuscripts have been written.

The MIEF in collaboration with the department of Sanskrit of Jammu University and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, organised the first workshop on “revival of Sharda script” from Aug 24-28, inaugurated by R. D. Sharma, vice chancellor of the same. Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani, renowned Kashmiri linguist and Sharda expert delivered the keynote address and presided over the function.

The five-day workshop aimed at reviving the dying script and training researchers and Sanskrit scholars and taking their help in translations of scripts that has a direct significance on Kashmiri Pandit culture and traditions. It is the first of its kind by the Millennium India Education Foundation and has trained more than 300 scholars and enthusiasts.

Mr Sharma welcomed the initiative to start capacity-building training programmes and hoped that these would help in creating large pool of scholars to get engaged in researching and translating the manuscripts lying idle in different libraries across the world. He also announced that Sanskrit department would also sign an agreement of cooperation with MIEF on the same lines as the organisation has done with JNU and Mumbai University to further strengthen the efforts for revival of the script.

MIEF is the only organisation that has taken up a gigantic project and has signed two Agreement of Cooperations (AOCs) each with Sanskrit department, Jawaharlal Nehru University and University of Mumbai, for capacity building, e-digitalisation and translation of manuscripts and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts has also got associated with this NGO.

Originally more widespread, Sharda script became later restricted to Kashmir, and is now used only by the Kashmiri Pandit community for ceremonial purposes.

Today only a small group of Brahmins continue to use the Sharda alphabet for writing and calculating astrological and ritual formulations. The Kashmiri script is essentially its modern version and all letters have nearly identical shape to their counterparts in Sharda. Throwing more light on the issue, Mr Kakroo said that preserving the script was in line with the MIEF of aim of connecting communities and creating a culturally rich world for future generations.

The main questions that prompted MIEF to consider this project were that it is facing virtual extinction because the script is not being taught anywhere and people who have knowledge about this script are fast aging and leaving.

“The MIEF and JNU have developed Sharda font for use on line using computers and will be available for use to all scholars very soon. In addition under the AOC with JNU, manuscripts would be translated and e-digitised and made available for anybody to read in their preferred script and language,” said Mr Kakroo further adding that follow up workshops are continuing in Mumbai University on first Sunday of each month and a WhatsApp group of about 50 trained scholars have been formed who are regularly writing, translating and practising written sentences manuscripts.

This NGO is also discussing with both JNU and Mumbai University to start optional course/certificate course for learning Kashmir Shiavism and Sharda script and is expected to start by next academic session in both universities. This will be again for the first time that a university accredited course will be started in learning of these scripts.

Mr Kakroo added that learning this dying script will help in taking a step forward to preservation of cultural ethos of Kashmiri Pandit community in particular.

—By arrangement with Asia News Network-The Statesman/India

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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